We Need Clinicians Not Cops

The headline for the London Free Press today was   “Mental health cop calls soar 40 percent.”
The article goes on to explain that mental health calls are costing the police more than $14 million now which is “chewing” up roughly 15% of their budget. We have a veteran city councilor agreeing that the police department is justified in saying these are health issues-not police issues-and we need the federal and provincial governments to get onside.
I’m a simple man but now that we’re all onside lets have the province and in fact Ottawa step in and redirect that $14 000 000. Policing does not improve mental health but rather mental health care improves mental health.
Chief Brad Duncan has according to the article voiced concerns about the issue for years and in fact repeated them just last week after a meeting of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
I believe we should have a total cost figure for police forces across Canada to determine the amount that we are funding police to deal with mental health matters. It is my assumption that any amount should be mainly diverted into health care services and possibly the creation of mental health care teams who can work at a street level and not only deliver mental health care but divert it to the appropriate services.
We can specifically train officers to respond to the dangerous instances of mental illness which are few and far between. We need clinicians not cops. If a health care worker can do what is presently done by an officer I see no reason to require the officer to stray from their criminal and safety matters.
Having in this case some portion of $14 000 000 put directly into mental health care services will then eliminate their call to such funds which will reduce their budgets. Unlike Mr. Bud Polhill I do not see a great need to find new money from taxpayers when it can be diverted.
We can then turn to honing the training of officers in response to mental health crisis intervention which sometimes come to a tragic end. If they are left to deal with necessary initial contacts they can then specialize in assessing danger and better recognize that dealing with symptoms is different.
I can agree with the chief that reasonable and beneficial application of funds needs to occur. It needs to be applied firstly with thought to those who need assistance through illness. If we are going to shift from policing mental illness to treating it as early as possible it should be the least stigmatizing and most therapeutic.
This funding needs to be better applied to the mental health consumers of this community. At the end of the day I can see no argument in that. If we can expand the mobile mental health unit run by the Canadian Mental Health Association it can only benefit those with mental health difficulties. If the police are spending $14 000 000 diverting a portion can only improve the mental health experiences of Londoners.
I have few complaints regarding the police in all my contact. I have sat behind some fine officers. Men and women I have always carried respect for. The only point I wish to make is that it is stigmatizing to have a recognizable police vehicle pull in front of a home, and enter it with guns. What do neighbours come to believe about the individual but also the illness?
It is detrimental to the fight against stigma to continue to police mental illness. It coats those with mental illness with a degree of criminality. This feeds and strengthens one of the biggest myths about mental illness. That being that the mentally ill are violent. We need prompt and proper delivery of mental health care just as it can be expected for physical health. If I need physical health care I tend to see those specifically and intensively trained in healthcare. If I need mental health care I tend to see police officers whose training is less specific and intense. To accept and continue with the use of police officers in the application of mental health services is a form of discrimination. We would be aghast to find the same with respect to physical illness.
We need a healthcare version of mental health service not a policing version. Agreed. It does not seem a leap to continue with the police to administer to calls which may need police tactics to ensure safety. Most calls should safely be diverted into the hands of highly trained healthcare workers. We need the police for what the police do best.
The sooner we can divert this funding into a safe, therapeutic and destigmatizing model, the sooner mental health services will improve for all Londoners.
Thank you Chief Duncan.

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